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THE Australian truck market has seen record sales for 2018 overall and across many segments, but, like the passenger car and LCV markets, there are signs of the “credit squeeze” inflicted by regulators taking a toll on sales in the final quarter.

The good news is that Australian truck and heavy-van sales for the 2018 calendar year totalled 41,628 units – the first time more than 40,000 units were sold in the truck market.

According to the Truck Industry Council’s T-Mark data released last week, this was a significant increase of 4803 units, or 13.0 per cent, over 2017.

The number represented a new record for heavy-vehicle sales in Australia. The previous record was 38,131 new-truck sales, set in 2007 during the pre-Global Financial Crisis (GFC) market peak.

The record in 2018 was 3497 unit more than 2007, or 8.4 per cent higher.

But other records were set in 2018, although most of those other records were set up earlier in the year with strong quarter one to three (January to September) sales.

Sales in the final quarter (October to December) saw the market cool noticeably, excluding the light-duty truck segment that posted record sales in December and the fourth quarter.

The good news is that nearly all segments posted double-digit percentage growth in 2018, over 2017 sales. The lone exception was the van segment that was up just 1.0 per cent over the previous year’s result.

Highlighting just how much the market slowed in October to December, T-Mark data show sales in the fourth quarter 2018 of 10,963 vehicles.

This was only 450 vehicles, or 4.1 per cent, more than the last quarter of 2017 and well down on the average market growth of 13.0 per cent seen for 2018 overall.

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The fourth quarter was also down on the best-ever quarter-four result, which was set in 2007 when 11,013 heavy vehicles were delivered.

For December 2018, the total heavy-vehicle market of 3455 units was down 18 vehicles on the 3473 trucks sold in December 2017.

The result was also down on the December record set in the pre-GFC December of 2007 where 3509 heavy vehicles were sold.

The heavy-duty truck segment managed to achieve sales of 1186 units for the month, which was down 64 units, or 5.1 per cent, over the December 2017 result.

But in the whole of the fourth quarter of 2018, HD truck sales reached a total of 3983, up 244 trucks, or 6.1 per cent, over October to December 2017.

Overall, 2018 saw much healthier HD truck sales, and the end of year total of 14,344 units was a new record for the segment, surpassing the 2007 peak of 13,342 by 1002, or 7.0 per cent and 2017 sales of 12,002 by 19.5 per cent.

HD trucks make up the largest slice of the Australian heavy-truck and van market, accounting for 36.3 per cent of all heavy vehicles sold in 2018, moving further ahead of the light-duty truck segment, at a 32.6 per cent share, despite the LD truck segment also posting record-breaking sales in 2018.

The medium-duty truck segment saw solid growth over the year, and while December was another positive month, MD truck sales also slowed in the final quarter of 2018.

The December 2018 total was 693 units, representing 3.9 per cent growth (26 trucks) over December 2017.

The fourth-quarter MD segment result of 2124 was up on the final-quarter 2017 result of 2064 units by 60 trucks, or 2.8 per cent.

This is the second best post-GFC final quarter for MD trucks but a significant 24.5 per cent below the result for the same quarter in the record year of 2007.

The total tally of 2018, which ended with 8210 MD truck sales, eclipsed that of 2017 by a significant 12.3 per cent, or 898 trucks.

However, the 2018 result was well below the segment peak of 2007 (when 9923 MD trucks were delivered) by 17.3 per cent. This and long-term sales results show that this segment is in decline.

In 2018, MD truck sales accounted for just 19.4 per cent of new heavy vehicles sold in Australia, well down on the 2001 peak of 30.9 per cent.

The light-duty truck segment saw record sales in December, with 1188 deliveries, up 12.4 per cent (131 trucks) over December 2017, which was the previous best December result for its deliveries.

The fourth-quarter total of 3575 unit sales was up on quarter four 2017 by 11.2 per cent (400 units) and is a new fourth-quarter record, beating the previous mark that was also set in 2017.

The yearlong sales trend in the LD truck segment was also strong and set the scene for a record sales year in 2018.

A total of 11,628 LD Trucks were delivered last year, breaking the previous best sales mark, set in 2017, by 1,501 trucks – a 12.9 per cent rise.

The light-duty van segment recorded a similar result in 2018 as it did in 2017. By year-end, sales were up just 1.0 per cent (62 vans) over the previous year’s result.

Nearly 6000 (5945) heavy-commercial vans were sold in 2018, compared to 5,883 units in 2017. This was a new record for Australian van sales, as the previous best mark was set in 2017.

December saw weaker than average 2018 sales for the van segment, with just 388 vehicles delivered, down on December 2017 sales by 22.2 per cent (111 vans).

The 2018 fourth-quarter result of 1281 new-van sales was also well down on 2017 fourth-quarter result of 1535 units by 254 vans, or 16.5 per cent.

Slowing sales in 2018 have seen the van segment slip to just 11.7 per cent of the total Australian new heavy-vehicle market, well down on their market peak of 17.8 per cent in 2017.

The chief executive officer of TIC, the peak industry body for truck manufacturers and importers into Australia, Tony McMullan, said it was pleasing to see 2018 finally eclipse the pre-GFC peak set in 2007.

“It was equally pleasing to see that new truck and van sales broke through the 40,000 mark for the first time, with the final figure of 41,628 sales, surpassing industry expectations,” he said.

“Heavy and light trucks, as well as van sales, set new whole-of-year sale records, and the light-truck segment, in particular, showed no sign of slowing growth over the twelve months of the year.

“If there is a concern to be taken from the numbers in 2018, it is the noticeable slowing of the heavy and medium truck and the van segments in the final quarter of 2018.

“This trend and the business confidence uncertainty that always accompanies a federal government election points to a receding new truck sales market in 2019.

“My hope is, that should this eventuate, the drop in sales will be minimal and that the second half of 2019 will see the market in recovery.”

By John Mellor

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